Every time we make a piece of art, we reach the point of deciding if it’s finished --yet as common as this moment is in studio life, it is often one of doubt and second-guessing. What are some meaningful criteria for when something is done? Are there questions to ask ourselves in declaring something finished? Do we have to finish everything, or is it OK to abandon certain pieces? Today we will look at this ordinary but complex process of deciding a work of art is done.
Many times, artists look to others for an opinion about whether a work is done, abandoning their own decision process for someone else’s view. It’s also very common for someone—a well-meaning instructor, friend, artist, or a family member—to offer unsolicited advice about something being done. “Don’t touch it, it’s perfect” may seem like a helpful comment, but it can hinder the artist’s own path and vision. In a classroom situation, an instructor’s role may be to push a student who wants to stop too soon, but within the context of the student’s own goals. For all of us, asking for or offering constructive feedback is helpful, but we need to take responsibility for setting our own criteria for finished work.
That involves intuition of what feels right, plus an objective understanding of weak spots and the need for more edits and changes. Coming up with good questions and criteria to decide if something is done is important. And it’s also important to be honest about feeling impatient or being willing to settle for less than you are capable of creating in the desire to be finished.
Often, we need to set a work aside to gain some distance and insight into where a piece is heading. And sometimes, we can decide that we’ve learned what we can and move on. Even with media that can be reworked many times, like an acrylic or oil painting, abandonment can sometimes suit our best interests. It may not be until we start something new that we realize how much we’ve learned in the previous struggle.
In the end, taking full responsibility for deciding something is done and gaining some clarity about your own criteria is the path to excellence in your work.
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